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Monday, January 23, 2017

Arthur Bliss - Morning Heroes; Hymn to Apollo (Andrew Davis)


Composer: Arthur Bliss
  1. Morning Heroes, a symphony for orator, chorus & orchestra: I. Hector's Farewell to Andromache
  2. Morning Heroes, a symphony for orator, chorus & orchestra: II. The City Arming
  3. Morning Heroes, a symphony for orator, chorus & orchestra: III. Vigil -
  4. Morning Heroes, a symphony for orator, chorus & orchestra: The Bivouac's Flame
  5. Morning Heroes, a symphony for orator, chorus & orchestra: IV. Achilles Goes Forth to Battle -
  6. Morning Heroes, a symphony for orator, chorus & orchestra: The Heroes - V. Now, Trumpeter, for thy Close
  7. Morning Heroes, a symphony for orator, chorus & orchestra: Spring Offensive
  8. Morning Heroes, a symphony for orator, chorus & orchestra: Dawn on the Somme
  9. Hymn to Apollo, for orchestra

Samuel West, orator
BBC Symphony Chorus & Orchestra
Andrew Davis, conductor

Date: 2015
Label: Chandos



It is over 40 years since the last recording of Bliss’s choral symphony Morning Heroes, written in 1930 as a memorial to his gifted brother, Kennard Bliss, killed at the Battle of the Somme. That thoroughly committed performance, made in 1974 by Charles Groves and the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus, is still very much worth having in its remastered version. However, this new recording is a revelation for its clarity (notably of the composer’s vivid orchestral palette and imaginative choral writing), coherence and sheer emotional intensity.

One of the most striking features of the work is the part of the narrator in the opening and penultimate movements. In 1974, the deep, sonorous tones of John Westbrook fulfilled this role majestically, but Samuel West is undoubtedly his equal for the hypnotic modulation and control of his recitation, especially in the extraordinarily haunting (not to say terrifying) concept of Wilfred Owen’s ‘Spring Offensive’ with timpani. Davis’s handling of the multi-movement structure of Bliss’s poetic anthology, which ranges from the deeply personal to the collective, is sensitively paced and shaped. The careful grading of ‘Hector’s Farewell’ is beautifully restrained to allow the narrator to shine through, while the different shades of melancholy mixed with those vivid sentiments of life and imminent death (which only war can engender) are powerfully conveyed, especially in the wonderful pastoral elegy for female voices, the ghostly setting of Whitman’s ‘By the bivouac’s fitful flame’ and the Bachian, passion-like final chorus, ‘Last night rain fell over the scarred plateau’. The orchestral tone-poem Hymn to Apollo, reworked in 1965 from the original version of 1926 and characterised by its clean contours and processional motion, serves as a fitting contrast and may well have been part of the cathartic process, as Morning Heroes most certainly was, to exorcise his nightmares and the sorrow of his brother’s death.

-- Jeremy Dibble, Gramophone

More reviews:
BBC Music Magazine  PERFORMANCE: ***** / RECORDING: *****
MusicWeb International  RECORDING OF THE MONTH


Arthur Bliss (2 August 1891 – 27 March 1975) was an English composer and conductor. After the First World War, he quickly became known as an unconventional and modernist composer, but within the decade he began to display a more traditional and romantic side in his music. In Bliss's later years, his work was respected but was thought old-fashioned, and it was eclipsed by the music of younger colleagues such as William Walton and Benjamin Britten. Since his death, his compositions have been well represented on record, and many of his better-known works remain in the repertoire of British orchestras.


Andrew Davis (born 2 February 1944 in Ashridge, Hertfordshire) is a British conductor. He is currently music director and principal conductor of Lyric Opera of Chicago, chief conductor of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and conductor laureate of both the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Davis has performed a wide range of repertoire, with a particular focus on contemporary British music. Davis has recorded for a number of labels, including Chandos, NMC Recordings, Teldec and Deutsche Grammophon.


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